The ‘World War Z’ Movie Is Not Like The Book: Does It Matter?
Last weekend we finally got to see the finished results of Brad Pitt and Marc Forster’s much-discussed adaption of Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Originally bought by Pitt’s production company, Plan B, for over $1 million, the project has been plagued with an unusually high level of criticism and bad press before it even had a chance to put its own case forward.
The overwhelming topic for disparagement hasn’t been its piggybacking of the newly popular zombie genre, or the four different writers brought in to tackle the story, however – it’s been the film’s deviation from the novel’s unique style and structure. Now that it’s out in the world, however, my question is: are those changes from the source material really such a bad thing, and are book fans destined to be unsatisfied either way?
Judging by the reviews that have emerged since the weekend, World War Z is in no way the disaster that many had been proclaiming it as. As with a lot of films that have significant issues during production, the film was fighting an uphill battle against bloggers, critics and film fans, but there was another group of people who weren’t too happy with the development of the movie – existing fans of Max Brooks’ celebrated book. What should have been an in-built fanbase has proved to be the opposite.
So significant are the changes that, looking at the book and the movie side-by-side, they share little but a name. What probably started as a creative and unique take on the zombie-horror genre has turned into something much more generic and, well, ordinary. Brook’s narrator, who collects the stories of various witnesses to the world-wide epidemic, has now become Brad Pitt: Action Hero, and the potentially mockumentary style has been replaced by a third-person narrative following one man in a race against time.
But it could be said that literature fans are never happy when their favorite book is translated to screen. Flicking through a selection of any reactions to past adaptations will find complaints about being too faithful and complaints about deviating too much – so what was World War Z to do? It isn’t a catastrophic mistake, so will the two texts forever be linked by their shared names, or can they be enjoyed as individual stories belonging within the same loose genre boundaries?
We’ll likely never know what some of the previous versions of the script actually looked like, but it’s possible that things were simply lost in translation. It’s most likely a symptom of Hollywood’s skittishness however, that a narrative told from multiple perspectives scattered across the globe eventually became a star vehicle for Brad Pitt with none of the flourishes that made Brooks’ novel so compelling, interesting, and worthy of big screen adaptation in the first place.
But, even with Pitt on board in a smaller role, I doubt audiences would flock to see a faithful adaptation of the book in the way they have this generic, crowd-pleasing, easily understandable and marketable apocalypse movie. It has made enough money to justify a sequel, for example, so it seems that those warnings online and in magazines haven’t been so damning where it counts – people’s pockets. So, if people like and have enjoyed the movie version of World War Z, and we’re all aware of how different it is to the book, isn’t it a waste of time to still be comparing the two?